Maya arts and crafts are an exclusive manifestation of the lifestyle and dominant culture. Their skills and talents prove that they were a sophisticated civilization that developed technologies, ideas, concepts, designs and architecture that still amaze us today. There have been discoveries of elaborate Maya scultures, artifacts, paintings, pottery and innovative creations and designs.
Like all civilizations Maya life focused on the producttion, harvesting and preservation of food. They were advanced in the field of agriculture as they planted corn, beans tomatoes and other items that were vital to their survival. As part of their daily routines items such as food and spices, tortillas and seeds would have to be properly stored and secured for future use. Like with many other daily challenges, the Maya developed the skill of basket weaving as a solution to the preservation of foodstuff and perishable items.
As the name suggests, basket weaving is the process of weaving unspun fibres into the shape of a basket. Using the “jippi jappa”. The Mayas weave baskets of assorted sizes. One regular size basket takes about four days to complete.
The Jippi Jappa is a plant that grows wild and abundant in the rainforest. It resembles a type of palm. The shoots and flowers are edible. The plant is also known as Sabal Mexicana and belongs to the Cyclanthaceae family of flowering plants. When weaving a light colored basket, the closed palm-like leaves are used. Dark colored baskets use the open palm leaves. Using a knife or sharp object, the center of the leaf is removed so as to expose the fibres. The fibres are tied together at the bottom eight in a bunch and then boiled in water for five or ten minutes to prevent discoloration from fungi. They are then washed and dried in the sun. Once this process is complete the basket weaving can begin.
Basket weaving, unlike many other crafts, has yet to be modernized. Although it has been attempted, no modern invention has yet been able to replicate the quality and unique characteristics of a hand-woven basket. For this reason one must appreciate the Maya of today who still posses and practice this ancient craft.
Baskets range in shape, size and design. Some baskets are very small in diameter – three of four inches. Larger baskets range from twelve to eighteen inches in diamater and can stand two to three feet tall. Some baskets have covers, others do not.
Basket weaving starts from the base. After the base is created the frame structure is added. The desired height of the basket will determine how tall the frame support should be. It requires approximately eight jippi jappa plants to make one basket. The fibers are interwoven among the base as the weaver makes her way upward to the rim of the basket. Using colorful wool, designes are woven into the sides of the basket to add to its beauty.
These baskets are very popular throughout Guatemala and Belize as they serve functional purposes. Smaller baskets may be used to store jewelry, mementos, buttons, coins and other small items. Larger baskets may be used to store vegetables, other consumable produce and clothing. In many homes hand woven baskets are used as ornaments and decoration.
Maya women, young and old, still weave baskets for home use. The practice has been passed down from the original Maya civilization, and as it is still being used today, proof that it will be passed on to generations to follow. Research by Julio Saqui